The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

In Laura Mulvey’s article, we were given insight in to the male gaze in cinema. In Doane’s article, Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator, the theorist gives insight into the concept of the female gaze. Can women be spectators? If so, how? In examining these questions, Doane recognizes Freud’s theories on women participation in their own femininity. Woman remains “entangled in her own enigma”(19). She cannot separate herself from the image that represents her. Without this distance, it is impossible for a woman to become a spectator of a feminine image in film. She is too close to achieve voyeuristic pleasure from gazing at a female object on screen. In other words, to gaze at the object is to gaze at herself. However, unlike Freud, Doane isn’t lost in the enigma that is woman, and she certainly does not think that woman are the problem.  How can woman participate in the role of the spectator and find pleasure in cinema?

Doane briefly touches upon the the reversal of the voyeuristic gaze by rendering a male image as an object. The male strip tease or gigolo are not unknown to modern cinema or culture. However, by reversing the gaze “the dominant system of aligning sexual difference with a subject/object dichotomy.”(21) This division of sex perpetuates the lack of distance between a woman and the feminine image in film. She can never assume the role of the female spectator without this distance.

As Irigaray discusses, a problem is language. A man can partially examine himself and successfully define himself in the realm of his language. Woman, on the other hand, are taught the same masculine form of language as man, and therefor cannot possibly identify femininity as a separate entity. Doane argues that this is a source of Freud’s woman enigma. In accordance with this masculization of woman, the female spectator is often one that assumes more traditional masculine spectatorship. (24) Doane parallels this with the idea of transvestism and the ease in which woman assume male characteristics as a mechanism to achieve desire. As opposed to male transvestism (which is an occasion for ridicule) female transvestism is a path towards desire. Doane notes that the construct of sexual mobility in femininity is an accepted cultural characteristic because (in an humorously ironic idea) “it is understandable that a woman would want to be man, for everyone wants to be elsewhere then the feminine position.” (25) This struck me particularly as a sad truth, as feminine characteristics are considered similar to the “minor arts” Doane mentions earlier in the article.

If transvestism is a path toward achieving the female spectator within modern social constructs, why then does woman assume the overly feminine “mask?” Doane notes that forced excessive femininity is not the solution to transvestism as it dissolves feminine identity. By using femininity, the collection of characteristics that culturally “defines” what is woman, as a masquerade, woman acknowledges that femininity is merely a “decorative layer.”(25) The effects of this masquerade are essential in examining the female spectator. One one level, underneath the mask can be hidden masculinity that is kept secret by over compensation of femininity. This relates to transvestism that Doane discusses earlier in the article. On another level, by using feminist as a mask, woman can separate herself from the “womanliness mask.” Doane notes that “the masquerade’s resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness.”(25) The masquerade, for better or for worse, allows woman to achieve the distance from the feminine image that she could not achieve before separating herself from “womanliness.”  She can become the spectator, but only by “using her own body as a disguise.”(26)

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